Anonymous sources. The impact of citizen journalism on jobs. The importance of vetting and curating sources.
These were just some of the topics that were part of the conversation yesterday as 100 people packed the Montclair library auditorium for NJ-SPJ’s panel discussion: Who is a Journalist Now? For those of you who were unable to attend, stay tuned for more resources, including a YouTube video, more audio excerpts and a complete podcast. In the meantime, here are some highlights:
- Anonymous sources: While author Jonathan Alter noted anonymous sources are a “necessary evil’’ in journalism, he was also cautious about their use. His rule of thumb? No ad-hominem attacks. His comments were echoed by other panelists, including Peter Szekely, vice president of the Deadline Club, our sister organization in New York Deadline Club. Journalists, Szekely said, often use anonymous sources to give the impression that they are plugged in. “There’s a certain amount of swagger in using these [of anonymous sources], and I think we should, as journalists , really try and not to overuse it . . . and only use it when we absolutely have to.’’Audio clips: Alter talking about his moral code on anonymous sources; Szekely on anonymous sources; and an exchange between Alter and state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg on the same topic.
- Citizen journalism: The role of citizen engagement in 21st century journalism was highlighted by Justin Auciello, whose Jersey Shore Hurricane News took off after it became lifeline during Hurricane Sandy. He noted over 200,000 people are feeding him real-time information, and asked the panel to comment on the use of citizens as both sources and contributors.
- Heather Taylor, communications director of the Citizens Campaign, an organization that trains citizens to use journalism skills to serve as watchdogs in their communities, championed the value of citizens who can bring “great value to what’s happening as boots on the ground.” “You can’t ignore that,’’ Taylor said. But she did not discount the value of a critical eye: ‘’You’re bringing it in and then you’re vetting it and you’re curating – that’s the big word today; it’s curation,’’ she told Auciello.
- Merrill Brown, director of Montclair State’s new School of Communication and Media, called citizen engagement in today’s journalism “a requirement for success’’ in today’s marketplace. “It is mandatory that we take seriously citizen input engagement with the right verification accompanying it, and that the journalism institutions that will thrive in the coming years, in the ace of all the troubles that journalism have, are those, who among other things, master this,’’ he said.
Audio clip is here; speakers are Auciello, followed by Taylor, Brown and Alter.
- Free labor: Our panelists disagreed about whether citizen journalism has contributed to job loss. Brown said there is no connection between the two. “It’s about the economic model, but it has nothing to do with the fact that we are engaging people in new and different ways,’’ he said. Alter was not so sanguine. “When publications can get smart columns for free, the market vaue of punditry just plummets – which it has,’’ he said. Those basic market principles, he said, likely also apply to reporting.Here’s an audio excerpt of the exchange. The first speaker is Merrill Brown, the second is Peter Szekely, the third Jonathan Alter.